Saturday, 2 February 2008


Saturday, 2 February 2008
Warning: spoilers! Only read if you have watched this episode!

Is there a perfect "system" for predicting the winners of horse races, time after time? Derren Brown says there is. He's apparently worked out a full-proof method of prediction, and secretly shares his knowledge with a young Londoner called Khadisha, via anonymous racing tips…

Initially intrigued, she sees that the first predicted winner romps home. Khadishais told to put actual money on the second horse, and it wins. The ordinarily cash-strapped Khadisha now has a decent wad of cash (£975), and growing belief that her mysterious tipster may be onto something.

Can you really can predict the outcome of horse races… despite odds of 1.48 billion to one against discovering a system?

Then Derren makes his presence known to her at a race-track. Uh-oh. It must be a trick, right? Well, yes -- but of the mathematical kind. Derren wants Khadisha to place another bet: the sixth and final one. His system hasn't failed her yet, so she's keen to cash-in – sweet-talking £1000 from her father and £4000 from a loan company.

It's £5000 to win on Moon Over Miami at Sandown racecourse…

To try and persuade us discovering "a system" could be possible, there was an intriguing side-game he played with four racing experts. Each were told to choose a photo of a random person, from a choice of 500 suspended from strings in a warehouse. They did so, returning to stand on circles drawn on the floor.

Derren had predicted the order they would stand in, the photo they would choose (each person in the photo had the same initials as the picker!), and numbers on the back of each photo equaled the massive improbability of Derren predicting all these circumstances. Pretty cool, eh?

But, y'know, this was Derren Brown. Nothing is quite what it seems with the goateed mind-fiddler. And so it proved with The System, which was amusingly simple once it was revealed…

Look away now if you don't want it spoiled!

Essentially, Derren had actually sent his first racing tip to 7,776 people (dividing them into groups, and giving each group a different predicted winner)… he only continued giving the winners a further tip, in the same way … meaning he was gradually filtering the group down like a pyramid. Poor Khadisha just happened to be one of the "lucky ones" to have fluked 5 wins in a row. She wasn't alone. A number of others were being filmed for the programme, too.

But it all came down to the sixth race. Derren placed her £5k bet, and eyes expectantly followed the green-white jersey around the track. Moon Over Miami wasn't doing very well, though In fact, the nag was last for pretty much the entire race… eventually plodding across the line to lose Khadisha her 5 grand – and disprove "the system". Oh well.

Of course, in true Derren Brown trickster fashion, he'd actually decided to put the bet on a different horse at the last minute: the winner! Khadisha gratefully collected her £13,000 winnings, as the other potential stars of this System special had their dreams dashed at the final furlong.

But they were compensated for any losses after the show, don't worry.

The System wasn't the best Derren Brown special, primarily because common sense screamed at you that it just can't be true. If it was, any sane person would keep their system a secret and pocket millions. But these shows are brilliantly constructed and it managed to stretch a thin narrative story (and a simple "trick") into an entertaining hour. Derren Brown is always great fun to watch, and the trick with the racing experts and the photos was impressive… as was the commitment Derren showed to toss a coin 10 times to reveal heads!

So, yes; definitely one of his weaker specials (a sign he's running out of ideas?), but it was still a great deal of fun and definitely worth watching. I just prefer his creepier (and live) specials. The ones that have genuine affects on peoples' mental faculties. The System was a more straight-laced study in belief and probability, really. Entertaining and enjoyable, but below-par considering how mind-boggling Derren Brown's stuff usually is.

1 February 2008
Channel 4, 9.00 pm